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The Fantasy Baseball Hall of Fame (in conjunction with Razzball.com) is a new website dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments of Major League ballplayers during the “fantasy era” (1980-present). The greatest of these players will be elected to the Fantasy Baseball Hall of Fame.

Let the roasting begin!  By my calculations not one closer in the history of baseball, let alone the fantasy era, is worthy of induction to the Fantasy Baseball Hall of Fame.

…..Pausing to avoid the onslaught of flying rotten fruits and vegetables…..

I know, you mock only because you care.  Closers simply don’t bring enough to the table due to their limited number of innings pitched.  Consider the point totals of the top 25:

Those are ugly.  The batters get elected with 65 points, and the starting pitchers have to reach 52.  Not one closer has ever reach 36.  The #1 ranked closer, Dennis Eckersley, ranks just 212th among all positions.  The most impressive peak score belongs to Dan Quisenberry, but this is just 243rd best.  Quite simply, Closers only contribute significantly in a single category and therefore do not have a huge impact on a fantasy team since their low innings pitched totals hinder scoring in WHIP, ERA, Wins, and Strikeouts.

I previously argued that starting pitchers should be cut a break since they are not allowed to contribute in five categories since as saves reserved only for relievers.  I stand by this thought process, and argue the difference with closers is fundamental – they are allowed to contribute in all categories, but pitch too few innings to make an impact in all five.  It’s an argument between “incapable” and “not enough playing time”.

Further, consider the following:

- Our own Razzball ‘perts routinely preach the practice of trading away the best closers.
- Most owners consider them a necessary evil.  You land A-Rod at a good price, or in the 1st round, and rejoice.  Or Peavy falls to round 2 and you feel your staff is well on its way.  But when you grab Joe Nathan in Round 3 all you can think about is scrounging around for 2 more decent closers to round out your relief corp.  Without 2 more good ones, you might as well have not drafted any.
- Punting a category is a fairly common practice where an owner decides to save money (or early draft picks) by avoiding high priced closers, and spending the savings elsewhere to create a powerhouse offense or starting rotation.  97% of the time, I looked it up, owners punt saves.  How critical can they be?

Finally, and I openly admit it may be a blind spot to this old greenhorn’s way of thinking, but real Fantasy Baseball is Rotisserie style and not this fly by night, get lucky one week and unlucky the next, head-to-head junk that is so damn popular nowadays.  (Can you hear my next line …When I was a kid we used to have to wait for the Sunday paper in order to get all of the weekly box scores from around the league so the commissioner could compile scores manually using an abacus.)  I say this because a closer’s value does change a bit depending upon league style, and one can truly take advantage of an extra $45 dollars in a roto-league, but less so in head-to-head versions.

Having said all this, in recognition that necessary evils are still necessary, Closers do have a place at the FBHOF, just one without plaques.  Some shine for the Top 5 all time:

1) Dennis Eckersley
In 1990 “Eck” posted an identical ERA and WHIP of 0.61, one of the more remarkable feats over the course of baseball history.  In 73 innings his K/BB ratio was a mind blowing 73:4 and one could argue it was the most dominant stretch of innings ever.  I got to thinking how rare it is to have identical ERA/WHIP scores and did some investigation.

Using 50 innings pitched as the barometer, only 7 pitchers have been able to record an ERA equal to or lower than their WHIP:

Bob Veale was lucky more than anything else.  Giving up 59 hits and 40 walks over the course of 78 or so innings is not exactly impressive as his 1.27 WHIP indicates.  We can safely assume Eckersley had a better season than him.  Up next are Earl Hamilton and Chris Hammond, both of whom are the same boat as Veale, though to a lesser extent.  A 1.11 WHIP is good of course, but not remarkable, and they too overshot their expected ERA’s.

This brings us to Dennys Reyes, Rob Murphy, and Nick Maddox who all kept their WHIP scores under 1.00, a mark of a great season.  The first item to note is Eckersley pitched in approximately 35% more innings than each of them and should be rewarded for his continued greatness over a larger body of work.  Second, you’ll notice Reyes, Murphy, and Maddox combined to record 1 save versus Eckersley’s 48.  I don’t have the means to calculate win expectancy tables, but I can safely say Eckersley also pitched in more difficult and stressful game situations, another mark in his favor.

Finally, and the most obvious, there is an ocean of difference between a 0.61 ERA/WHIP and a 0.83 WHIP/ERA.  Again using the 50 IP barometer, there have been two instances in baseball history where a pitcher recorded a WHIP under 0.65 (Eckersley’s done it twice of course).  In contrast, there has been a whopping 52 instances of 0.85 or better proving he’s in a class all unto himself.  I declare, as many before me done as well, that nobody has ever been as dominant as 1990 Dennis Eckersley.

Oh, his 5 year peak Fantasy Line was 81 IP, 5 W, 0.84 WHIP, 2.14 ERA, 84 K, with 38 saves.  He also had six seasons with 5+ FBHOF points.

2) Dan Quisenberry
Quiz holds the 3rd best single season FBHOF score among closers with 9.8 FBHOF points in 1983.  He’s also the only person to record two seasons of 8 or more points which gives him the best two year run in closer history (17.8 points between 82’ and 83).  His peak score is slightly better than Eckersley (33.3 to 32.4) but is ranked below him due to his relatively short career.  Eckersley benefits from his years as a starter and comes in with 15 total Fantasy Worthy seasons, a considerable 9 more than Quisenberry.  Even when narrowing down to only loser eligible seasons, Eck comes out on top 10 to 6 which pushes him into the overall lead in FBHOF points.

Quisenberry’s peak average line:  132 IP, 8 W, 1.08 ERA, 2.51 WHIP, 45 K, 39 Saves.  His high number of innings causes his ERA and WHIP have a relatively large impact when compared to today’s closers who frequently fail to reach 80.

3) Trevor Hoffman
Hoffman is the only one of our closers to finish in the Top-3 five times.  His best was an 8.2 point season in 1996:  88 IP, 9 W, 0.92 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 111 K, 42 Saves.  He’s had nine seasons of at least 40 saves and has never recorded fewer than 20 (or fewer than 30 if you prefer take out the 1994 strike year).

4) Mariano Rivera
Rivera is widely considered the best closer in baseball history so why does he ‘only’ rank 4th in fantasy history?  First, no one would really argue he was better than Eckersley when only looking at their best 5 years, but just as important, Rivera was not a dominant strike out pitcher like Hoffman who averaged an 11.2 K/9 ratio to Rivera’s 8.3; nor did Rivera pitch as many innings as the closers of the early 1980’s, only 57% of Quisenberry’s for instance.

Rivera does have an extremely high number of saves though, his peak average:  47 Saves, 0.98 WHIP, 1.88 ERA, 76 IP, 70 K.

5) Goose Gossage
Had we considered the 1970s Gossage may have ranked as high as #2 on this list.  He lost eight seasons to the decade, 4 of which were great, and two of these elite (212 and 245 ERA+ scores in 1975 and 1977).  Still, Gossage had 5 excellent seasons to start the 1980’s before ultimately hitting a wall in 1986.

His highest scoring season was 1983:  87 IP, 13 W, 1.23 WHIP, 2.27 ERA, 90 K, 22 Saves but his most dominant season was 1981:  47 IP, 3 W, 0.77 WHIP, 0.77 ERA, 48 K, 20 Saves

Where does this leave the Eric Gagne’s and Joe Nathan’s of the world?  And why no Lee Smith or Robb Nen?

Gagne was awesome and no closer has recorded more points over a three year span, but that’s as far as his greatness lasted.  He was the best of the best from 2002 to 2004 but for the rest of his career has injured or merely average.

With just a four season body of work as a closer Nathan is out of the Top-5 for now, though that may change a the end of this year.  Robb Nen was elite for 1 year, very good in another, but not a true standout in his 3rd through 5th best seasons and thus falls just short.  Finally, Lee Smith is the epitome of the “compiler” label when used in a derogatory context.  His ERA and WHIP scores were routinely above 1.20 and 3.00 respectively, but if you want consistent saves (and only consistent saves) he was your man – ten seasons of 30+, though just 3 of 40+.

  1. Grey

    Grey says:
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    I’m convinced any half decent starter could save 40 games, but I don’t think every closer could be a useful starter. Anyway, good to see Nick Maddox finally get his due.

  2. Lou says:
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    Yeah, anyone who was called “…a well formed youth with a face like a dried apple.” should at least get mention 100 years (appx) after he chucked a no-hitter in his rookie season.

    Wiki rocks.

  3. “Finally, and I openly admit it may be a blind spot to this old greenhorn’s way of thinking, but real Fantasy Baseball is Rotisserie style and not this fly by night, get lucky one week and unlucky the next, head-to-head junk that is so damn popular nowadays”

    Amen Brother!!!! Testify!!!

  4. I know Smoltz made the hall as a Starter, but I’d be curious to see how his seasons as a closer stack up on this list.

    As far as the Eck sickness w/ that season have you seen Rivera’s numbers this season? If he can hold out the rest of the season he’s in that same level of nastiness! He’s on pace for a 82/6 K/BB ratio!

  5. Lou says:
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    @Kyle

    Gotta love Mo’s 534 ERA+, it is quite sick for any age, let alone 38.

    As for Smoltz, in retrospect I have him very good as opposed to great. In 2001 the 55 saves were wonderful of course, but his 3.25 ERA and 1.03 WHIP were not historic. I have him rated as the 5th best closer. Remember, Gagne was unhittable that year, and Kim , Koch (11 wins!), and Nen outpaced him a bit.

    In 2003 he was 5th best again behind Gagne, Foulke, Wagner, and Rivera. It’s a shame, but has to be considered when solely using Fantasy Baseball as a guide, but Smoltz didn’t win a game this year and it makes a difference.

    Finally, in 2004 he was very good but not stellar (1.08 WHIP, 2.76 ERA). This was the year Brad Lidge went nuts to the tune of 157 K, 0.92 WHIP, 1.90 ERA). And Smoltz, again, didn’t win a single game somehow.

    In all I have him rated the 4th best closer during the period he was at the job full time, behind Gagne, Foulke, and Wagner. Rivera would have passed him as well if not for his injury plagued 2002 season which held down his point totals.

  6. RAINMAN says:
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    I agree with your premise that closers in particular don’t really offer much fanasy value, so this may just be a useless intellectual thought (can a thought about fantasy/roto be intellectual?). But, I think your distinction between starters and closers (“incapabale” v “playing time”) is off, if only slightly. To me, under this reasoning, closers are “incapabable” of getting Wins (a 5th category) just like starters can’t get saves.

    Your rationale however would apply to relievers or middle relievers generally; but closers — pitchers who come in with the lead — by definition cannot get a win. (Yes, they can come into a tie came and get a win, but hey a starter can come in relief from time to time and poach a save — eg extra inning games.)

    This may not have consequence in your (excellent analysis), but thought i’d point it out (hopefully without sounding nitpicky)

  7. RT says:
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    Any thoughts on Nelson Cruz coming up with Hamilton and Bradley hurting?

  8. Grey

    Grey says:
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    @RT: I don’t think either are going to be out long enough for that to happen.

  9. RT says:
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    Thanks Grey. Trying to catch up after a long day of no baseball.

    re: the Lackey/Kepp vs Bruce/Headley deal…. Thoughts? I just noticed Burnett and Sanchez pitched their respective arses off tonight… Positive sign or luck?

  10. Grey

    Grey says:
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    @RT: I want Lackey’s side. re: Burnett — pitching with a ten run league helps. re: Sanchez — He did look very good.

  11. RT says:
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    Yeah, I hear ya… I’m just worried about being a bat short. Offense is good, but loaded with risks: Hamilton/Chipper/McLouth

  12. emayetee says:
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    I think yous guys give head to head a bad rap… it’s more fun on a week to week basis, and it makes better for rivalries n stuff. I kinda like that more luck is involved too… makes for better excuses and better my team is better than yours arguments. Anyway, im in an 8×8 H2H league (blasphemy) and punting saves. Can I get anything shopping Morrow now? Or should I just wait and see if Putz gets shelved?

  13. Grey

    Grey says:
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    @emayetee: I don’t think you’re going to get much for Morrow.

    EDIT: Changed “with” to “for.”

  14. Lou says:
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    @Rainmain

    Thanks for your thoughts, I do appreciate it since closer scoring has a bit of subjectivity in it. Anyway, I agree with you to a point but at the same time there are many closers that rack up a fair amount of wins. To be considered a closer for a specific season in the FBHOF rankings, you either need to A) be in the Top 30 in saves or B) reach 15.

    Anyway, in the “fantasy era” there have been 39 closer seasons, not middle reliever seasons, but closers with 10 or more wins. And 204 seasons with 7 or more. This is obviously no where near what a starter can provide, but each year many closers do easily best the minimum win value.

    But point taken, there is a fine line in their somewhere, hope I didn’t cross it!

  15. @Lou: Thanks for the follow-up. Thinking back that stretch when Smoltz was a closer was an elite stretch wasn’t it? There were some guys putting up awesome numbers! Gagne won a Cy!

    I hate the Yankee’s, but I’m really pulling for Mo to keep his numbers like this through the rest of the season. Not because I’ve got him on my fantasy team, but because it will be a great debate as the greatest season for a closer in the history of MLB!

  16. Bob says:
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    Since there are closers in the HOF, as an Angels fan, I’d like to see Troy Percival on that list. So far, there’s not a single Angel in the HOF wearing an Angels uni on his plaque. Ryan and Carew chose to use other team uni’s, which is undertandable. Always a place in my heart for Percy, and BTW, he’s now a classic crappy Razzball closer, although too crappy for me to own on any of my myriad of teams. One closer not on my list, the late Donnie (one more strike and we’re in the World Series) Moore.

  17. Lou says:
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    @ Bob
    Percival is rung below the major closers in my opinion. Yes, he racked up the save totals but he has had two seasons with a WHIP under 1.00 and an ERA under 3.00.

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